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Escape Pod 733: Relative Fortune

Show Notes

This is the third in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


Relative Fortune

By Brian K. Lowe

When I was seventeen, class president, and a year from the Space Force Academy, Dad fell into an antique gun rack at work, dead from a stroke before he hit the floor.

I had been helping him in the pawn shop after school, partly to make some tuition money and partly because it looked good on my Academy application. After he died it was either take over the shop, or let Mom work it and my brother Rey raise himself while I ran off to the Academy. I opened up two hours after the funeral.

Every night, I’d sweep the floors, dust the shelves, double-lock the front door, and walk upstairs after a 12-hour day of trading in things that people had once thought they couldn’t live without, but now couldn’t live without selling.

But while I was scratching out a living buying and selling second-hand guitars, the real money was in things that had gone Out There. Tools, spacesuits, uniform patches… And when it came to interstellar travel, stuff that had been to another star… Years before I was born, the first guys to come back from Proxima Centauri had gotten rich selling their underwear. The best part was that, thanks to time dilation, they were still young. They’d been able to retire in their thirties. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 732: At Her Fingertips

Show Notes

This is the second in a special series of space-themed stories for May 2020.


At Her Fingertips

by Jason Kimble

Ten fingers, ten toes. That’s the baseline for a healthy kid, right? You’d have thought I’d be a bonus, what with eighteen fingers. Guess they all have to function before you count them.

As Deficiencies go, mine’s not so bad. The Skew was a hell of a thing, and everyone on the Rim’s still feeling it. I knew a guy once had a fully formed jaw down around his nuts. I only wish I was kidding. On the upside, the hinge didn’t work, or it would’ve been a nightmare sitting down.

So, yeah, I have extra digits grown out from the top of my primary knuckles. You get used to working around them, though. Makes some things tenser for me when I’m elbow-deep in an engine than it does for people without them, but it only took once or twice pinching them before my reflexes amped up. And, like I said: could be worse.

“Acaja!”

Case in point: I could have a mouth that doesn’t close all the way like my boss, Harvey. He literally never shuts his trap.

“Acaja, get the hell over here!”

No matter how much I wish he would.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 731: For Whatever We Lose

Show Notes

This is the first in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


For Whatever We Lose

By Jennifer R. Donohue

I lied to meet an astronaut.

Or my dad did, which is the same thing. I was supposed to be at least eight years old to attend, and I was only six but the tallest in my class. So I got to meet the astronaut that August day, instead of going to the beach, or playing in somebody’s backyard and running barefoot to the ice cream truck when we heard its roving song.

He was the third man on the moon, and at home I still have the framed and autographed NASA black and white of him young and serious in his spacesuit. It used to be one of the pictures on his Wikipedia page, a piece of my memories there on the internet for everybody to see. It’s probably the same promo photo he used for years and years; I wonder how many other kids kept theirs. Thinking of it like that makes him seem still alive, like as long as all those pictures are out there, he can’t possibly be gone. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 729: Gaze of Robot, Gaze of Bird


Gaze of Robot, Gaze of Bird

By Eric Schwitzgebel

First, an eye. The camera rose, swiveling on its joint, compiling initial scans of the planetary surface. Second, six wheels on struts, pop-pop, pop-pop, pop-pop, and a platform unfolding between the main body and the eye. Third, an atmospheric taster and wind gauge. Fourth, a robotic arm. The arm emerged holding a fluffy, resilient nanocarbon monkey doll, which it carefully set on the platform.

The monkey doll had no actuators, no servos, no sensors, no cognitive processors. Monkey was, however, quite huggable. Monkey lay on his back on the warm platform, his black bead eyes pointed up toward the stars. He had traveled wadded near J11-L’s core for ninety-five thousand years. His arms, legs, and tail lay open and relaxed for the first time since his hurried manufacture.

J11-L sprouted more eyes, more arms, more gauges – also stabilizers, ears, a scoop, solar panels, soil sensors, magnetic whirligigs. Always, J11-L observed Monkey more closely than anything else, leaning its eyes and gauges in.

J11-L arranged Monkey’s limbs on the platform, gently flexing and massaging the doll. J11-L scooped up a smooth stone from near its left front wheel, brushed it clean, then wedged it under Monkey’s head to serve as a pillow. J11-L stroked and smoothed Monkey’s fur, which was rumpled from the long journey.

“I love you, Monkey,” emitted J11-L, in a sound resembling language. “Will you stay with me while I build a Home?”

Monkey did not reply.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 720: Child and Orb


Child and Orb

by James Dunham

The child spent most of her time watching the empty stars from the pod window. They were always nothing but distant, dead glitter–not a planet, cloud, or rock, not a fleck of wreckage from the explosion. With only one window, she often wondered whether, if there had been another vista at the rear of the two-room pod, she might still be able to see the spinning pieces of hull and conduit, see that glove someone hadn’t gotten a hand into in time.

Even though the stars ahead never grew closer, she knew the pod kept moving. A display in a lean-to showed speed, fuel, and probably a destination, though none of the numbers meant much to her. The windowed orb that had carried her onto the pod told her what she needed to know–the pod was heading to meet another ship, still weeks distant. She appreciated that the orb hadn’t lied to her the way adults sometimes did, to make her feel better or to give her time to adjust. Instead it told only the truth.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 715: A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman


A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman

by E. Catherine Tobler

The spaceman shows up on a hot summer afternoon, not in the dead of night when you’re crouched in the garden peering through a telescope that shows you the endless glories and wonders of the night sky. There’s no spaceship making a bright arc against a star-spangled sky. Just a man in a spacesuit, standing at the edge of your hammock. His presence reminds you school is over and relatives will be coming soon and you don’t want to see them. They will ask you who can’t see beyond the edge of your hammock about grades and ambitions and Plans For the Future. Aunt Fran is dead and there’s just no fixing it, but funerals help us move on, Mom says so, and Mom Knows Best. You don’t want to go, because going means it happened and going means something is over.

You ask the spaceman where his blue box is and he stares at you like you’ve lost your entire mind, because boxes, he tells you in absolute certainty, are no good for space flight. Boxes are not geometrically synergistic, he tells you, whether cardboard or wood or blue. He doesn’t have any kind of an accent, no bow tie, no box, and he’s lost. He tells you he’s lost.

This is just Earth, you tell him, and he says he knows that, how stupid do you think he is, he’s been here before, so many times before he knows Rubik’s Cubes and arcades and the way ugly yellow dish gloves will stick to your fingers and turn inside out if they’re too hot when you take them off. He remembers when an icy Big Gulp in a sweating plastic cup was the best part of summer—that’s why he’s here now, summer, and why it’s afternoon, and why— (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 711: Carols on Callisto


Carols on Callisto

By Deborah L. Davitt

On the surface of Callisto, Rebecca Fox struggled with tangled, 3D-printed branches, her fingers clumsy inside the bulky gloves of her suit. The swollen belly of Jupiter dominated the horizon, a swirl of muted white and orange, and the Great Red Spot stared like a baleful eye. The landing lights of ships crossed the planet’s face, heading for the port. The vibration of their engines in the regolith rumbled underfoot as they landed.

“This is idiotic,” a voice broke in over the radio as her companion bounce-walked to her, holding another set of printed branches. “It takes us twelve years to orbit the sun. Why do we need to celebrate Earth’s holidays here? We should be creating our own.”

“The kids like it,” Rebecca defended. She had this conversation with Dieter at least once every three months. “They enjoy designing their trees at school, which is a good use of their CAD skills. They like seeing something they’ve made go up. The plastics get recycled, so it’s not a waste.”

“It wastes time.

“You get to charge hours for this,” she reminded him lightly. “Hush.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 710: Requiem Without Sound


Requiem Without Sound

by Izzy Wasserstein

Introit
Evie is born into cold and silence. They know this, though they have only now gained consciousness, because their sensors report it. The memory of the station’s computer, which now forms part of Evie’s brain, tells them that their environment is very wrong. There should be movement. Sound. Life.

Interior scans of the station reveal the cause. A chunk of rock, 9 cm in diameter, has punctured the station’s control room. Chavez was in her chair when the debris broke through, crushing her head. There was no time for her to seek the safety of the living compartment, no time for decompression or cold to kill her.

Evie has been programed with a full suite of emotions, including empathy, and feels that a quick death was a small mercy.

Chavez died before Evie’s mind had finished growing on the neural-lattice, before they became conscious.

A rigorous technician, Chavez left notes in Evie’s code, though there was no one to read it besides Chavez, and now Evie themself. The annotations are clear: she was growing Evie because she was lonely. Evie considered one particular notation at length: I’m tired of singing to myself.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 709: In A Wide Sky, Hidden


In A Wide Sky, Hidden

by William Ledbetter

Warm liquid gurgled away and the kettle field winked off, leaving me naked, wet, and trembling in the soup kitchen’s receiving chamber. My traveling companion, Roger, waited with clothes. Humanoid in shape but impossibly thin, his eight-foot-tall metallic figure moved with an almost liquid grace as he stooped to help me into the robe. My new skin felt raw against the thick fabric, but, like the chills, was caused by the transfer and only temporary.

“Is she here?” I said while bending down to pull on a pair of quilted boots.

“No obvious signs,” Roger said and handed me a glass of bourbon.

I took a long sip and moaned as its burn saturated me from the inside out.

“Thank you,” I muttered.

His bulbous head nodded a slight acknowledgement. “You should really drink something else upon reconstitution,” he said. “Tea, perhaps. That really doesn’t help.”

“No obvious signs of her? What does that mean?” I said.

“Skimmer forty-eight found something interesting. I’ll be able to tell you more when its full report arrives in about five minutes.”

I looked up at his smooth, featureless face hovering two feet above mine. Even after nearly eighty years of association and friendship, my human hindbrain still expected facial expressions when I looked at him. Finally, when he offered no further information, I shrugged and took another sip.

It wasn’t real bourbon, only a molecule-by-molecule reconstruction from local materials, but unlike a human mind instantaneously transferred into a soup-kitchen body via a quantum link, no method could reinstall the soul into the body of bourbon. In other words, I had tasted real aged Kentucky bourbon on Earth and flattered myself by thinking I could tell the difference.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 707: Rule of Three (Part 3 of 3)


Rule of Three (Part 3 of 3)

By Lawrence M. Schoen

Late in the day Foom laced its fingers with my clone’s and I felt my consciousness pushed aside. Not entirely out, but no longer in control of my doppelganger. There wasn’t the exchange of knowledge and insight that had accompanied this gesture in the past. I followed the alien’s focus, using everything I’d learned in the last few days. I could see what it was doing, but not understand it. “Can you explain what’s happening?” I asked.

“I am crafting what you would call a retrovirus from your double’s cells. Actually, many variations of this retrovirus. If I am successful, one of them will rewrite your gonads and ultimately alter the viability of any spermatozoa they produce. He’ll still produce semen in the normal fashion, but it will be inert for reproductive purposes. No ‘Jing’.”

Foom grinned as it said that last word, lapsing from the Miao tongue into Chinese for an old word from Chinese medicine for ‘sexual energy’ that I must have picked up years ago and long since forgotten. Apparently, it had pulled more than just the one language from me.

“Shooting blanks, as the Americans would say,” I added.

“Thus ensuring the extinction of your species without causing any physical harm to the living.” (Continue Reading…)